“What Kind of Republican Are You”

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It was years ago when I was first elected to the Representative Town Meeting in my hometown of Fairfield CT. We had finished the organizational meeting in January when, after the formalities and I was collecting my papers to walk out, Rep Nello Ceccarellii indicated he wanted to speak to me. Nello had seemingly been on the RTM forever and came across as a real old-school Yankee.

“So Thomas!” he asked in that reedy voice that could cut concrete “what kind of Republican are you? Do you vote your own way? Or do you only vote the Republican way?”

“Mr. Ceccarellii, I only vote the Republican way. But sometimes the other Republicans don’t know which way that is.”

I expect I’ll be telling that story often over the next few weeks.


Live-blogging the UK General Election 2015

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5/8/15, 1:49:58 AM EDT Well Good Heavens! What an election! The last results I’m waiting for won’t declare for hours so I’m going to bed. As of now the BBC is reporting the Conservatives will have a bare majority. This doesn’t mean smooth sailing but certainly it wasn’t expected. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Good night all. Thank Heavens we won’t be back here in December!

5/8/15, 1:45:59 AM EDT I’m fading faster than the reporters on BBC News (which is saying something). I’ll wait a few more minutes to see if Morely & Outwood reports.

5/8/15, 1:23:18 AM EDT Excellent result in Bradford West. George Galloway was pummeled by Labour’s Naseem Shah (despite Labour’s best efforts to lose the election).

Disappointing to me, John Reckless lost in Rochester and Strood. He was intelligent and energetic – the UKIP can’t afford to lose MPs such as these.

5/8/15, 1:04:34 AM EDT Paranthetically, where do they find some of these commentators? I thought some of the US ones were be bad but, yeesh. It’s a wonder that these people ever learned to walk.

5/8/15, 12:54:33 AM EDT Cameron made a very statesman like speech at his return. He wants to return the Conservatives to the “one nation” mantle it once had. He will hand Scotland full fiscal autonomy and tell them to run with it. They will predictably run the nation into the ground.

Danny Alexander lost as well. This means there are no Liberal Democratic cabinet members left except for Nick Clegg. All the commentators are talking about Clegg needing to leave due to result. But there’s nobody left in the parliamentary party to hand-over the reigns.

5/8/15, 12:43:20 AM EDT And in news from Doncaster…

5/8/15, 12:20:58 AM EDT And, just like that, Charles Kennedy and David Laws both lose their seats. Laws seat in particular, Yeovil, had been Liberal going back to the days of David Lloyd George. Imagine Republicans winning in Chicago and New York is a good idea of how earth shaking it is.

5/8/15, 12:05:41 AM EDT Esther McVey just lost Wirral West by 417 votes. Not sure where she goes from here. Liverpool doesn’t have a mayor. She’s too popular in Merseyside to ignore but has crossed David Cameron too many times to an easy return. Leading member in the Johnson government, perhaps?

More surprising, give the wipeout Scottish Labour has suffered, David Mundell has retained Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. At this point there are just as many Conservatives in Scotland as LibDems and Labour MPs.

5/7/15, 11:56:53 PM EDT Nick Clegg wins reelection in Sheffield Hallam against the odds. Many reports of “tactical voting” – local Conservatives told to vote for him to keep him in Parliament. While it’s sad from a human point of view this didn’t “happen to him”. Had he played this even slightly differently he would have been official opposition instead of being a political “dead man walking”.

5/7/15, 11:37:24 PM EDT Tania Mathias looks like she will need smelling salts after beating Vince Cable. Will the last person in the Liberal Democrats bring the picture of Gladstone on the way out?


5/7/15, 11:30:56 PM EDT One of my candidates to watch is going down to the wire. Esther McVey is going to a recount. Boris Johnson wins Uxbridge & Ruislip South. In true Boris fashion no matter what happened he would have “won”.

5/7/15, 11:18:35 PM EDT Douglas Carswell wins Clacton for the UKIP. I wonder if he could use a newly minted American polisci graduate as a researcher. Alas, UKIP has lost in Thurrock and looks shaky in South Thanet. That means they could REALLY use my help, right?

5/7/15, 11:11:35 PM EDT And in a few short moments Lynne Featherstone and Simon Hughes both lose their seats. These were two heavy breathers in the Liberal Democrats. This is historic – both were high flyers expected to be leaders in the future. Now they are both out of a job. Both the leader Nick Clegg and his putative successor Simon Hughes are both under threat.

5/7/15, 11:06:15 PM EDT And “Cruel Remark of the Election” goes to:

5/7/15, 11:00:20 PM EDT Liberal Democrats keep Orkney & Shetlands (just). SNP will tell you that they aren’t part of Scotland anyway.

5/7/15, 10:55:17 PM EDT While there’s a lull in the returns I can’t decide – should I open another bottle of wine or move on to beer?

5/7/15, 10:46:58 PM EDT Lib Dem “big beast” Ed Davey has lost in Kingston & Surbiton. I have no sympathy for the Liberal Democrats. If they had shown any political intelligence, any at all, they would be preparing themselves for official opposition.

5/7/15, 10:42:02 PM EDT George Galloway is rumo(u)red to have lost his seat. He was a real piece of work – can’t see the back of him fast enough enough.

5/7/15, 10:25:26 PM EDT Amol Rajan, Editor for the Independent, puts it plainly for the Liberal Democrats. All of their top names are in danger of losing. Extra-ordinary!

5/7/15, 10:15:34 PM EDT BBC is pointing out while Labour is wiped out in Scotland they aren’t making any headway in England or Wales. This could turn into a rout (now wouldn’t that be terrible heh, heh, heh).

I have to hand it to Jim Murphy. His concession speech was both kind and gracious without conceding a thing. Definitely someone to watch.

5/7/15, 10:11:48 PM EDT Jim Murphy, the leader of Scottish Labour, has lost to a nobody in Renfrewshire East. This will mean blood. Murphy dropped a promising career in London to go north and “fix” Scottish Labour. He won’t go quietly if they try to ease him out of his job.

5/7/15, 10:07:08 PM EDT OK, a break in the action. As of now

  • SNP is trouncing Labour in Scotland. As of now all 18 seats declared in Scotland has gone SNP.
  • Tories are holding strong in England. Losses to Labour in London being made up by gains in country and Wales from Liberal Democrats
  • Thurrock, which was a UKIP target, is too close to call and looks like will be a long night.

5/7/15, 9:47:40 PM EDT Just as Tessa Jowell comes on BBC to foam BS at the mouth (as my friend Kerry would put it) my browser crashes. It was that last live-feed from the Spectator that did it! Time to reboot (and get more wine).

5/7/15, 9:22:37 PM EDT And in a shocker “Wee Dougie” – Douglas Alexander – has lost to a college student in Paisley and Renfrewshire South. It’s hard to overstate how shocking this result is. Douglas Alexander is a Labour front bencher and shortlisted for the next leader. Now he’s unemployed. Shades of the NDP in Quebec during Canada 2011. However, it says something that they cut her (short) acceptance speech to cut to Nicola Sturgeon.

5/7/15, 9:17:27 PM EDT While we wait there are developments in Northern Ireland. UUP has taken South Down from the DUP. This will have a large effect on the ground in the province and, depending how close the Tories are to a majority, it may have UK repercussions as well.

5/7/15, 9:08:19 PM EDT NOW we are talking. Paisley in Glasgow is about to announce. The experienced Labour incumbent is facing Mhairi Black – a college student who ran in the seat as a class project and looks to win. Shades of the NDP in Quebec during the last Canadian election.

5/7/15, 9:03:07 PM EDT Some of the twitteraty are saying that David Laws may have lost Yeovil. I hope he doesn’t run into Paddy Ashdown!

5/7/15, 9:00:48 PM EDT Well, they did ask.

5/7/15, 8:56:41 PM EDT It’s jarring that the only talking head that doesn’t sound like “the honorable member from Stepford” is… David Blunkett. Is he lining up for a comeback?


5/7/15, 8:35:53 PM EDT All holds so far. On the other hand, no Scottish seats reporting, either.

5/7/15, 8:32:27 PM EDT I should like to second Mr. Martin’s sentiments.

5/7/15, 8:21:20 PM EDT Time for more wine.

5/7/15, 8:11:41 PM EDT Still much speculation but not much news. Good time to get some more wine and review some of my key constituencies:

Morely & Outwood: Ed Balls’ constituency

Sheffield Hallam: Nick Clegg’s constituency

Wirral West: Esther McVey’s

The first two are obvious. Esther McVey is interesting – if she can keep her seat despite her… notoriety… it would indicate a good night for the Tories.

5/7/15, 8:01:37 PM EDT Is it just me or does Justine Greening looks like Camille Coduri?


5/7/15, 7:56:29 PM EDT The tittle-tattle from Thanet isn’t good for UKIP.

Not to start a conspiracy theory but I don’t think he’ll be too crushed if he loses. Reading between the lines one gets the idea he’s not in good health.

5/7/15, 7:54:03 PM EDT Much ado about Conservatives holding Swindon North. Ho hum – Iain Dale called this ages ago.

5/7/15, 7:41:46 PM EDT BBC and Sky with their typical coverage – lots of supposition and spin but very little news. Sky presenters are slightly prettier but slightly dimmer so it all evens out I suppose. For example, why in the world would Sky spend 5 minutes with Al Murry during an election when there are real (and interesting) candidates to be had.

When there’s a break in the action I’ll run through what I think are the key seats. One of them is Morely and Outwood: Ed Balls’ seat. He had a hard time keeping it in 2010 and I don’t think the locals have warmed to him in the interim.

I’ll also see about fixing the text to make it more readable.

As my wife would say “of course he is”. I’m an avid follower of UK politics (among others) and will be writing updates from the vantage point of middle America. And, yes, I was up for Portillo.

5/7/15, 7:22:33 PM EDT First glass of wine in hand and the British version of “gasbag gulch” is in full swing.

  • The Daily Telegraph says exit polls are predicting that the Conservatives will win 216 seats. This is acres ahead of all other polls during the campaign.
  • Back biting has commenced among the good-and-great in the Labour party (not to be confused with Backbite Publishing).
  • In a spot of trouble: both Nigel Farange and Nick Clegg look to be in danger of losing their seats.

Still need to set up my multi-media feeds. And away we go…

Political Notebook: Ed Yarnell and the 2012 Presidential Election

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It’s getting to be the time where “gasbag gulch”, that dismal place where political pundits gather, starts the play-by-play on the 2012 Presidential election. Last week the “big” story was the Ames (IA) straw poll and the end of Tim Pawlenty’s campaign. This week the airwaves are filled with unoriginal thoughts of Gov. Rick Perry. As one can tell I find the coverage dismal but it does remind me of Ed Yarnell, one time pitching prospect for the New York Yankees.

Ed Yarnell had tore up the minors in 1998 and had a respectable 1999. As a late season call up in 1999 he acquitted himself well in “the show”. The Yankees won their second consecutive world championship and, come January, the talk was who was going to be the new fifth starter in the rotation.  Sports has it’s own “Gasbag Gultch” and the unassailable consensus was that the fifth starter was Ed Yarnell; the only question was how fast and how far he would develop. All through January and February, along with the swirling rumors which follow the Yankees at all times, the talk was Ed Yarnell’s place was all but in stone – Torre all but confirmed it off the record.

But there’s a reason you’ve never heard of Ed Yarnell. He arrived in spring training in 2000 ready to go.  But the first few games he was shelled. Not just pitched poorly but as if he were throwing batting practice. As the spring progressed Torre continued with supporting statements and kept putting him in but, for some reason, the promise of the previous year was unrealized.  Finally, Torre had to recognize reality and the Yankees went north with Ramiro Mendoza in the rotation – a young starter/long reliever already on the roster who would go on to play a key role on five world championship teams (four with the Yankees, one with the Red Sox).

Now don’t get me wrong – it is a very important part of the season. It’s where players get back into shape, work on new pitches and generally prepare themselves for the campaign ahead. But, despite all the coverage it really says little about what will happen once the team “heads north”. Ed Yarnall was what the pundits call a AAAA player – he was too good for the minors but not good enough for the majors. In late 2000 he was traded as part of a three player deal to Colorado for Denny Neagle. He then bounced between majors and minors before finishing his career in Japan. All very respectable but did not turn out to be the top man in the rotation.  At this point in their respective campaigns Sen Harold Stassen, Sen John Glenn and Gov. Mario Cuomo were all slotted to be top men in their presidential race – all went on to have very respectable careers but come the primaries none made the rotation

So, when people ask whether Perry or Romney is up or down I tell them “I don’t follow spring training games”. Ask me in January when the contests start counting.

The ABCs of 3C – A Political Roadmap to Rail Service

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What follows is a research paper for my English composition class outlining a possible political approach to passing the 3C proposal

A concerted political campaign is required for 3C to pass and be successful

The ABCs of 3C – A Political Roadmap to Rail Service

There is a proposal to build an inter-urban rail between Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland.  While many plans have been proposed to implement such a link a recent disbursement from the American Recovery and Reinvestment act of 2009 has moved the matter forward.  But the plan is in danger of failing due to lack of political support and a dearth of details.  A concerted political plan will be required if an efficient rail link is to be brought to fruition.

The need for a concerted political strategy becomes clear when one sees how the public debate as calcified into a series of “playbacks” – prepared responses to whatever question is proposed.  Early in the process, in an effort generate “ball park” estimates concerning costs and timing the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) asked Amtrak for a draft proposal for rail service between Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus and Cleveland.  The results of this report, despite being firmly stamped “Draft” and suffused with warnings that the results are quite preliminary (variances on costs are estimated at 30%) are being quoted by both sides as being firm facts.   (Frank, Lander & Hillblom, 2009, p 2)

One can tell the prejudices of the speaker just by which facts are cited.  Any mention of “39 MPH” or the estimated $17 million in subsidy that will be required each year places the speaker in the “anti” camp. (Examiner.com 2010)  Similarly, someone in favor will invariable state that the federal government is picking up the starting costs and that 478,000 people a year will use the service (“One Vote Margin lets 3-C rail plan move ahead” 2010).  These statements are repeated as fact even as they are likely wrong.  The 39 MPH estimate is due to slow orders around Springfield due to the condition and curvature of the tracks – travelers to Cleveland will see much better speeds. (Franke, p 5) The Amtrak report suggests that minimum capital costs of $517 million will be needed to start the service – much more than the $400 million earmarked to the state by the ARRA.  Both the subsidy level and ridership are predicated of variable factors Amtrak does not address.  For example, Amtrak’s proposed schedule works around the freight railroads.  (Franke, p 12) This points out to a drawback in the foundation document – key decisions are assumed rather than taken.

Two of the most important factors that will determine the attractiveness of rail service is its path and schedule.  In the case of what path to take Amtrak assumes the “shortest, most direct route from Cleveland to Cincinnati” (Franke p 5).   This is a change as most studies in the 1970s and 1980s presumed a route through Youngstown.  (ODOT, 2010, p10-2).  The schedule is built around the freight railroads’ needs instead of the potential needs of passengers.  What the state of Ohio received was the answer to the questions they asked rather than the answers they needed.

To get a better handle on operational questions and costs the ORDC requested that a more customary study be done by Parsons Brinkerhoff Inc., a noted consultancy on infrastructure with expertise in rail.  Unfortunately, Parsons Brinkerhoff was also party to a group in Ohio, Linking Ohio, lobbying in favor of the 3C proposal.  This brought predictable complaints with “(s)keptics of the rail effort question(ing) how a company that is actively lobbying for passenger rail can complete an objective study on the issue” (“One-vote margin lets 3-C rail plan move ahead”, 2010, para 11).  This further hardened positions on both sides of the issue.

The ORDC presented the proposal for the full study to the Ohio Controlling Board with a $25 million price tag.  The Controlling Board reviews all expenditure involving capital projects.  Such was the animosity over the project that the top Republican, State Sen. David Goodman (R-New Albany) spent a good portion of the meeting arguing that a super-majority (2/3rd vote) would be needed to approve the study in an effort to kill it which fits into the partisan breakdown of supporters and opponents (“One-vote margin lets 3-C rail plan move ahead”, 2010).  Republicans are arguing that this will be an expensive boondoggle that will only serve a fraction of the Ohio population.  Democrats are arguing that Ohio needs transportation alternatives and inter-urban rail service, even at slow speeds, is the bare minimum acceptable.  What is noteworthy is that both assertions could be true depending on how inter-urban rail is deployed.

With the public debate so hardened then without some change in the dynamic the contents of this study will be irrelevant.  Expending federal money requires a 2/3rds vote of the Control Board and, without Republican support, it will lack the votes to pass.  Also, the key, highly political decisions concerning route, scheduling, consist and other matters are still not being made at ODOT.  The appropriation passed was vague and I have been told by Jodi Elsass-Locker, Assistant Legal Counsel at the Ohio Department of Transportation that the instructions to Parsons Brinkerhoff are not readily available (personal communication, June 4, 2010).  $25 million seems a large sum for a document both politically and operationally irrelevant.

For proponents of the 3C concept, the idea of Republicans after spending 18 months running down the idea having a sudden, Damascene conversion in an election years in unlikely in the extreme.  There needs to be a plausible narrative that would allow someone such as Senator Goodman to vote in favor of something he was speaking against a few months earlier.  Fortunately, a method presents itself by which the political problems can be solved at the same time the project can be made operationally sound.

The first step is to acknowledge the shortcomings of the Amtrak report.  At an operational level this would allow the state to challenge some of the assumptions Amtrak made as well as lay the groundwork for opponents today (of the Amtrak proposal) to become supporters (of a new proposal) in a short time frame.  The critique of the Amtrak report’s shortcomings should be done by the ODOT but if it is not it can also be done by pressure groups.  Continuous refutation of the “39 MPH” mantra should be refuted along with the notion that the start-up costs are “free” because they are paid by the federal government.  In this way, by breaking both “playbacks” it would make the pro-3C camp look thoughtful and reasonable and, by extension, make the anti-3C group look unthinking and intransigent if they do not change their approach.

Hand in hand with acknowledging the Amtrak report’s shortcomings is to begin to add rigor, or the perception of rigor, to the process going forward.  This process is highly political and the idea that important decisions can be left to “the report” is risible.  For example, it is reasonable to expect that the level of support, regardless of party, from Akron-Canton and Youngstown area legislators would rise if the route were moved to go through that section of the state.   The state could begin to demand concessions from Amtrak concerning the operation of the line to make ODOT look as if it were in charge.  Most importantly, the freight railroads, the companies whose property the state will be using for this service, need to be made enthusiastic supporters of 3C.

Freight railroads will always say they are in favor of passenger rail; they have no choice.  Federal law grants Amtrak the right to run service over any freight line so long as an appropriate rent is paid (Wilner, 1994, p99).  Amtrak also has the right to forcibly purchase rail lines if it so chooses.  Given that Amtrak has this level of power to publicly snub passenger rail would require a brave freight railroad indeed .  Less publically, however, freight railroads have been known to delay passenger trains even though, under the law, they are supposed to give them priority.  They can schedule maintenance at inconvenient times and otherwise make passenger service unappealing.

Fortunately, there are steps that would both bring the freight companies and Republicans to support 3C.  According to the Amtrak report, among the upgrades required are thoase would also help freight railroads. An example is two rail junctions in downtown Columbus.  According to the Amtrak report Columbus already “has some of the highest rail traffic congestion in the state” (Franke, p6)

Trains coming south from Worthington to the proposed station at the Convention Center pass though a complex junction known as Control Point 138 or “CP138”.  The two tracks under the Convention Center today are actually run by two different railroads: the north one by Norfolk Southern and the south one by CSX.  Heading south just across the Scioto river is another intense bottleneck for the railroads at CP139 which is known colloquially as “Scioto Junction”.  Fixing these two areas would be helping the freight railroads (who are Ohio businesses and employers), help the environment and make freight transit through the Capital more efficient.  This could be the common ground where pro-3C groups can meet with pro-business groups.  It would lay the groundwork necessary for 3C without necessarily prejudicing the outcome in favor of passenger rail.  Proceeding forward in this way benefits the freight railroads and the 3C outcome.

None of the steps outlined requires special knowledge or office.  It doesn’t matter who, be it the head of ODOT, the Governor, or pressure groups, takes the political lead on 3C so long as someone does.  The hallmark of this approach is factual rigor – it puts a line underneath the frozen positions of the past and wrong-foots attempts to continue in that vein.  The process needs to be transparent with concrete proposals made by the political lead, with due consideration to political realities, and not assumed by an engineer in a far off office.  This process will provide a good chance that 3C not only passes into being but is a success.

Another reason to vote Conservative

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From the BBC Live Webcast:

0036: Just looking at shots of David and Samantha Cameron going into a pub in the Tory leader’s constituency of Witney in Oxfordshire. They’re heading to the count later, but he obviously fancies a pint first. He’s said before that Guinness is his tipple of choice

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal has a picture.  It is number 5 in the slide-show

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